Summer School Reimagined (if we have to do it)

Right now, the world of education seems to be dominated by concerns about student “learning loss.” I expressed my opinion on this in a previous post — Our Kids Will be Okay.

I’m not going to imply that there aren’t legitimate concerns about student learning during the pandemic, but education, like everything else in the world, has been forced to make adjustments to unpredictable circumstances. It has been a challenge for administrators (district and site), teachers, parents, and students. Like everyone, we are all doing the best that we can. In spite of these efforts, the pandemic has made it clear to me that our reliance on standardized testing and arbitrary standards has polluted our system and made it ripe for the picking. I would estimate that I now receive four to five emails, similar to this, every day.

Prepare for standardized testing. State-specific resources. Enable students to score higher on standardized tests. No mention of learning.

Vultures.

I hear a lot of discussion — mostly among politicians — about how we are going to make up for lost time (i.e. learning). Suggestions range from longer school days, to an extended school year, and summer school. To be honest, I don’t like any of these options. I have always been puzzled by “seat-time” requirements for students. As if “time in a desk” has a direct correlation to learning. Under normal circumstances, I would argue that we spend plenty of time in school and that adding hours will do very little to improve student achievement (however we choose to define that).

At no fault of their own, districts are under a lot of pressure to address the perceived losses in learning time. Many are scrambling to develop plans to meet state requirements/expectations in order to ensure that they receive funding. They are being held over a barrel by state legislatures. One solution that many will use to address the concern is summer school.

Now, summer school is not inherently bad. Many kids benefit from having structure and organized activities during their break. For some kids, school is the safest place for them to be and it offers opportunities for breakfast and lunch. But, I do think we need to consider the level of stress our students have experienced over the past year. I think it is certainly possible that many would benefit just as much from some time away from schooling — whether in-person or online.

It is important to recognize that time away from school is not the same as time away from learning.

Here’s an idea. If we are going to have summer school, let’s engage kids in some non-traditional learning activities. Let’s grow their brains in different ways. I would LOVE to give the kids at my school the opportunity to take an art class, learn the basics of photography, do hands-on science experiments, participate in a culinary class, learn how to fish, spend time gardening, play basketball (or soccer, or baseball, or kickball, or just play), take coding classes, or learn how a bicycle works. We could also throw in some math and reading — whether as a standalone or embedded in other classes.

Just thinking out loud. I know that logistics and funding would make this a challenge, but I’m guessing that we would develop more neural connections with these activities than we would with traditional summer school.

Even I would be excited about the fishing class!

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